Lost in London

A look at London and life in general through the eyes of someone who sometimes can't bear to watch.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Baby one more mime

I went to see Britney Spears in concert the other week. Well, I think I did. A blonde pranced about on a stage for a couple of hours as some of Britney’s CDs played in the background so I can only assume it was actually Miss Spears. I only went because I managed to get £5 tickets on the day so thought that anyone was worth seeing for a fiver and dragged along my other half to the O2 where the world’s most famous hick was holding court.

I’d heard that she was miming the entire set, which I find unacceptable in any live act. Had I paid full price for my ticket, I’d have lynched her and paraded her head on a stick past the endless chain restaurants that encircle the arena. I once paid- well, twice actually- a small fortune to see Madonna and was horrified at rumours she’d mimed some of it. When did that become OK? Anyway, we pitched up at the O2, arriving amid a flurry of bunny ears, tutus and cheap perfume, before taking our seats. I’d been misinformed at the time Britney would be on stage and so had to sit through the support acts. First on was R&B also-ran Ciara, who had boundless energy but was a little swamped in the middle of the huge, round stage and, sadly, did a minimum of singing over a thudding backing vocal. The girl next to me asked if I was excited about seeing Britney. I had to admit I wasn’t that bothered and had only come along for the cheap tickets. I’d meant it to be a kind of joke, but the girl- I say girl, she was in her mid-twenties- took considerable offence and switched seats, which caused me no end of amusement.

When Britney finally appeared on stage, the crowd went wild and while the show had plenty of spectacle and the music sounded good, she mimed the whole thing, which no doubt wasn’t a problem if you were stageside but those of us up in the Gods had difficulty connecting with her, knowing that she was twirling around to a tape. She occasionally ‘spoke’ to the audience but knowing her she probably lip-synched that too. It was a bit like watching one of those dolls with a string hanging out of her back that you pull to make it talk. I wonder who does hold Britney’s strings these days. She did her fair share of dancing, despite performing the first three songs being dragged in a shopping trolley, but to me live should mean live, and I almost felt sorry for the Britney maniacs who come back night after night, spending all their wages watching her move her mouth.

As usual, I drank too much and managed to piss off the two girls at the end of my row with my constant trips to the bar. The actual highlight of the concert wasn’t related to Britney at all. Four girls who’d got £5 tickets and were sitting near us were approached by a member of the production team to see if they wanted to sit in a better seat. They naturally agreed, and were shown to luxury couches at the very edge of the stage, where they would be nose to nipple with their idol. Absolutely free. Watching them whooping it up, screaming and generally losing their shit at their good fortune totally made my night and was much more compelling than the dead-eyed pop princess strutting her stuff.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Jungle fever

I am supposed to be preparing a presentation for a second interview that I’ve got in 2 days and, as inspiration is not forthcoming, I have been doing anything but what I should be doing.

I’ve managed to catch some of the new US version of I’m A Celebrity… Get Me Out Of Here! and have found it wonderfully bizarre. Firstly, you don’t really have to be that famous in America to get on it. Janice Dickinson, runner-up in the UK a couple of years ago, is back for more here. While she is relatively entertaining in her other million reality shows, she doesn’t really shine in this format, whingeing and looking increasingly like she’s been left under the grill too long. She’s supposed to be rough and tough but welches out of challenges at the drop of a hat. I can’t believe she’s agreed to do the show again; her pay packet must be huge. The main highlight has been my introduction to Heidi Montag and husband Spencer Pratt. I’ve never watched The Hills, the show that propelled them to fame, but from what I understand it is a ‘scripted reality’ show. I think that means its participants are pretending to be in a docusoap but are actually faking it, the kind of behaviour that would have you hauled over the calls on an anti-sleaze ticket in the UK, but is absolutely fine in the US. Imagine if Ken and Barbie found God and you’d be halfway there with the Montag-Pratts. They’re in turns bouncy and clinically depressed, facing every hardship with utterings of prayers. Heidi, a wannabe popstar, was asked to sing a song from her album for the jungle crew. The resulting tuneless warble was met with derision from Janice, who received a dressing down from hubby Spencer who urged a bemused Janice not to make him ‘spence out’. Sadly, the shiny-toothed pair have now left the jungle thanks to Heidi contracting a vomiting bug. As stick-thin Heidi only usually vomits after a meal, the bosses figured something was up and the world’s worst advert for evangelical Christians slipped off our screens, much to the relief of the other also-rans. I hear that Heidi’s sister Holly has taken her place, so I’ll be tuning in to see if she’s just as jelly-brained.

I’m just half-watching that Giles Coren and Sue Perkins show where they ‘live’ in a different decade and eat food particular to that period. In this edition, somewhat pointlessly, they’re tacking that bygone era that is, er, the 1980s. Watching them ooh and aah over foods like Stella Artois, potato waffles and the like feels like a very empty experience. Unless you’re about 15, the menus don’t have the ‘ick’ factor that previous series would have done, thus rendering the programme a waste of time as no teenager would want to sit and watch this middle-class drivel. One scene had Giles going into Pret A Manger, for fuck’s sake. Gosh, nobody does that these days, do they? How odd!

One more TV gripe before I pretend to get on with some work: Andie MacDowell. Aside from these endless L’Oréal adverts, where she plugs anti-ageing cream (I wonder if it dials the plastic surgeon for you), does she actually do any acting? How would she find the time? She must film a new one every day.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Killer queen

Formidable retail ogress Mary Portas is back on our screens with her Mary Queen of Shops show, but instead of haranguing provincial boutique owners into ditching the leatherette jackets in favour of the latest trends, she's taking on the mild-mannered volunteers who staff the nation's charity shops.

Charity shops' heyday seems to have been and gone. Students are more likely to be clicking their way to a secondhand bargain online than rummaging through the flower power fabrics down at Oxfam. That eBay has usurped charity shops as a place for getting rid of unwanted possessions seems to have passed Mary by in her new show. I was practically shouting at the TV as she repeatedly expressed her bemusement that nobody was donating their best bits and bobs in the midst of a recession. "They're flogging everything online, Mary!" I wanted to yelp. "Log on and see for yourself." In the days where anything older than two seasons is 'vintage' and snapped up by ironic haircut-sporting trash enthusiasts with their own market stall, charity shops are being left with the sodden rugby boots, poo-stained knickers and crispy cardigans that would otherwise languish at the bottom of the dustbin.

Mary's steely approach usually works when she's lambasting a poodle-permed clothes shop owner in Cheadle, but when up against a silver-haired volunteer in Orpington, Mary looked less like the saviour of modern retail and more like a grimacing care worker, tweaking the cheeks of the obstinate grannies and giving them nicknames that for the first 89 years of their lives they managed to do without.

Mary's main hindrance was the hapless area manager of the Save the Children store that Mary was charged with rescuing. Clueless, grasping and powerless, Nick tried valiantly to persuade Mary that he was of some use, but la Portas was far from convinced. A stand-off in the shop over the state of the stock room left the area manager mourning the loss of his balls. A key part of Mary's masterplan was to turn the kindly volunteers into salespeople. One scene at a market stall, where Mary had charged the white hair brigade with flogging designer cupcakes made for slightly uncomfortable viewing as Brenda, a longstanding volunteer, thought of every excuse possible not to have to talk to customers or handle the goods. There was a positive outcome as Brenda turned into a market trader in a matter of minutes (in the edit at least), but it seemed that Mary, no doubt the very opposite of a wall flower most her life, didn't seem to want to accept that some people, especially little old ladies, prefer the shadows.

Even if Mary's retail rottweiler act seems a little at odds with the superannuated sales crew, it's fantastic to have her back on telly. I can't remember the last time I left a charity shop with anything other than paperback novel or maybe at a push a semi-interesting tie; can Mary's rag and bone revolution sweep the country? At the end of the first episode, there were a few tears from Mary, although she may have been peeling an onion under her desk; I couldn't quite see.